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Human…inhuman

All the four convicts in the Delhi rape incident were awarded the death penalty today.

There are live telecast on the court proceedings. Experts say, that the convicts should not expect to be shown any mercy. They were inhuman in their actions.

Soon after the incident, a newspaper had published a photograph of the one room in the slum area in which he lived. I cant forget that photograph. The room was so dirty, so filthy. It made me wonder then – that – a person living in that room, could he have any humane emotions in him?

Four young men, ages between 19 to 28 years, I wonder – what led them to commit that action?

Patriarchy? a sense of Machoism? a sense of power – that they could do anything without being brought to justice?

I hear – women saying that, now, after this sentence, a strong message would be sent to society. Women will feel safer.

I see – young persons in the university, beating drums in celebration.

I hear a young woman saying – a death sentence was too easy a punishment. They should have been tortured – mentally, physically.

I hear someone saying that, the mother who pleaded for a ‘second chance in life’ for her son, had no right to do so.

I hear someone saying, that the law relating to juveniles should be reviewed as it had let off the juvenile convict in this case, with lighter punishment. The inhuman act done by him, meant, he could no longer be counted as a juvenile. The inhuman act done by him meant that he was capable of taking decisions.

But, I wonder, does not the very inhumane nature of the act, indicate that he may not have had the capacity to distinguish between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’?

Today morning, I read in the newspaper of the death of a young class V student in a private school in Kolkata. She had been locked in the toilet of her school by her seniors. A case of ragging. The cleaning staff had rescued her after many hours. Right after the incident, the girl had become severely sick, perhaps from trauma, and subsequently she died. The parents laid siege on the school. The principal subsequently resigned from her post.

What made the senior students lock the girl in the toilet? Nowadays its not uncommon to read about incidents like this.

I remember my school years, around 20 years ago. I don’t think, we were ever afraid of our seniors. Nor – as seniors, I think, we ever inspired fear in our juniors.

Our society has changed so much over these years. I feel that violence has crept in our everyday lives in imperceptible ways – so much so, that violence and aggression has become ‘normalised’.

I would like to see justice for the violations caused by these young men.

But I cringe when I hear people say with satisfaction – that justice has been done. That a strong message has been sent to the society. That women will feel safer now.

I feel, its too easy way out. It does not force us to think – why such violence?

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hello…

I visited my own blog after so many months. And I saw people have been visiting it in my absence, from different parts of the world. And I could not but wonder – who are you all? It gives me a strange feeling – to know that I am connected to others around the world. I had stopped writing on this blog for many reasons, but I hope I would be able to start writing again….

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Returning to Bangkok after the floods…

A month back I had left Bangkok on two day’s notice. The flood waters were flowing towards Bangkok. As it engulfed the old airport area, the government complex, the already tense Bangkok-ians panicked. I was advised by my colleagues to stock up on dry food and water. The shelves at the super-markets emptied at a very fast rate. Next, the government announced a five day holiday to enable the people in Bangkok to prepare for the floods. All people who could take refuge in other provinces were advised to do so. My colleagues advised me to leave and within the next 48 hours I was on a flight to Delhi.

I returned yesterday. As I glanced down from the airplane, I could still see water everywhere. Sandbags are still outside the houses. Today as I entered my office, the first person I met was my senior colleague, a very senior lawyer who on a week day is always in formal attire – dressed very casually, with his shirt not tucked in and a salt and pepper beard on his chin. His office and house is still under water. He and his family have been living out of an apartment since the last one month. One of the first things he said to me was – that his collection of around 200 books had got destroyed. The shelves that he had stacked them on could not bear the weight and had crashed into the water. He has decided to grow a beard till he can return to his home. Other friends have temporarily moved in with other colleagues. Some are busy cleaning up after the waters receded from their homes. The stagnant water has left behind residue that is not easy to wash away. Colleagues who had temporarily migrated to other provinces to escape the floods are slowly returning to the city.

Today someone said that our office and apartment were saved from the floods because a well known nightclub cum hotel happens to be located nearby. The hotel is supposedly owned by some powerful people. The flood waters had reached the intersection but did not cross the traffic lights and advance towards the hotel.

I opened the door of my apartment and was reminded of the condition in which I had left for Delhi. The mental exhaustion of the past weeks had expressed itself in fever. I was shivering and sweating the same time I was packing. Things that I had planned to take with me to Delhi were still waiting in neat piles. I had omitted to pack them. There was a bowl of cooked rice in the fridge – now covered with a thick layer of feathery fungus. A packet of tomatoes had somehow turned into a red liquid. Leafy vegetables were – no longer leafy. And there was lots of stored water.

My ‘flood supplies’ of wheat biscuits, corn-flakes and soy milk came to my rescue as I cleaned and scrubbed.

Today, there were other colleagues as well who returned to office after a long time. So, it was back to flood talk – recounting experiences, exchanging news. But the worst has passed. The tension was not there. We celebrated our return with dinner and wine and stories about work, broken hearts and … floods. After dinner we went to the super-market but did not buy anything – the price of vegetables and fruits seemed very high, much higher than usual. It would be cheaper to buy from the street vendor.

Such is life – its different shades woven together so intricately. And to live it – one just has to accept it all…

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Ghas ki roti… grass rotis

While in school there was a story in our Hindi text book about how Maharana Pratap after one of his battles with the Mughals had to take refuge in the forests amongst a group of bhil adivasis. They lived a hard life and he and his family had to survive on ghas ki roti or rotis made with grass. I used to wonder- What would ghas ki roti look like – a green flattened bird’s nest? How would it taste? How would it be made? Would it not get burnt if put on fire? Would it not be simpler, just to eat the grass just as it was – fresh?

But then, these are not questions that you ask in class from a Hindi teacher.

Yesterday I bought a brunch of fresh coriander leaves in the morning. I thought I would make some coriander chutney, but I did not have any other ingredients needed for it. Then I had an idea. I put the bunch in water – leaves, stems all of it (except the root) and boiled for a few minutes. After that, while it was still warm, I mixed it with wheat flour, some salt and kneaded it into dough. And made rotis with it. They tasted good. The fresh flavor of coriander leaves was still there.

I tried it again today with cha-om (acacia) leaves – a herb that is quiet often used in Thai cuisine, often eaten raw. The rotis tasted very ‘earthy’ – leaving an after-taste of freshness, that I can’t find any words to describe.

But I think I have found answer to my questions – about what ghas ki roti would look like, or how they would taste…

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Growing up with Indian Railways

Of late I have been frequently remembering our travels with the Indian Railways and it struck me – how big a role it has played in our growing up years. Every school vacation meant – going to our grandmother’s home in Kanpur. A 24 hrs journey by train. And after the school going years – it connected us to many more cities, in search of higher education, in the course of work and simply for the sake of travel.

These memories are like a kaleidoscope. As I remember them – each thought slowly grows and merges into another – weaving together something that is beautiful and priceless. If I were to write about all of them, it would run into pages and pages. But what do I remember most?

The standing in queues before reservation offices. Once the dates of the summer vacations would be announced, my father would book the tickets for our onward journey. I remember going with him to the reservation office at a very young age. We used to have a separate queue for women. My father used to make us stand in that queue since it used to be a very short one. When our turn came, he used to handle the booking for us. The men in the other queue would grumble and mumble, but father managed to get his way. That’s how we learnt to do things – to fill in the railway concession forms distributed from the school, claim the student concession due to us and once we reached Kanpur, to help mother reserve our tickets for our return journey home.

I remember the excitement of travelling by train. Our faces pressed against the window bars – we used to see the landscape roll along with us. As we travelled from Jamshedpur to Kanpur, the mineral rich red soil of Singhbhum slowly turned into the yellow alluvial soil, the hills of chotanagpur plateau were replaced by the gangetic plain, the mustard fields and the mango orchards. We crossed over the river ganges at Allahabad. I remember, once the train was running quite late and for some reason it stopped for a long time, right on the bridge over the river. I still remember the sun setting over the river.

I remember the excitement over – who would our co-passengers be? Would it be a big family with many little children who would cry all the way? Or would there be somebody with an interesting repertoire of stories to share? I think we got our first taste of ‘stuffed bitter gourd’ during these journeys when our co-passengers shared their meals with us.

There was that exhilaration in stepping out from the train by ourselves into an unknown station – to buy a cup of tea, some food items, refill the bottles of water or wash utensils. But there was also that one time – when mother stepped out to buy some cucumber – and the train started moving. Mother had to climb into a moving train. We got a good scolding by all and learnt a lesson about not taking unnecessary risks.

I remember the summer, during the times of trouble in Punjab, when our train whose final destination was Amritsar, was stopped on the way. There was some kind of checking happening and the sikh men for some reason kept glancing into our ladies coupe. When mother asked them – what the matter was, they got more agitated. We latched the doors and windows and sat quietly inside, praying, till the train started moving again.

And I remember that summer – when many things happened.

By this time, my elder sister was studying the last year of high school in Kanpur. Mother decided that it was time for us to travel on our own. So when summer vacations came she packed me and my younger sister – off to Kanpur, all by ourselves. I remember – I was very angry with her for doing so. Did she not worry about our safety? How would we manage on our own? But we did. In fact – we attracted a lot of curiosity from our co-passengers. Two young girls traveling on their own – was not very common in those days. We reached our destination safely. I even made my first pen-friend during that journey.

That summer, elder sister had to worry about securing admission in a university. She was exploring different options and one was Lucknow University, one hour away from Kanpur. Her plan of action was to go there for a day and make enquiries. I was to accompany her. We would take an early morning train to Lucknow, visit the university during the day and then take the evening train back to Kanpur. We told our grandmother. She was a brave lady – who gave us permission easily. My grandfather or my uncle who might have raised objections – were not told. On our way to Lucknow – we made friends who helped us to plan the day. We boarded the train for our return journey in the evening. Our compartment was full of men. And the way they looked at us – it was a bit scary. We were uncomfortable. When the ticket checker came – we told him we wanted to change our seats and could he seat us in the company of women? The ticket checker understood our predicament and helped us. On reaching Kanpur I remember, we almost ran out from the train – the railway station – and hurriedly boarded a rickshaw for home. Conversation had dried out between us. We were so scared. It was only when we reached home, could we relax. We found everyone anxiously waiting for us. Grandmother was so relieved to see us back.

It was the same summer that Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. We were returning to Jamshedpur. Halfway through the journey, the train stopped at Gaya station for around 4-5 hrs. There was some disturbance along the route. There was no food or water available at the station. It was hot and we all were hungry and thirsty. There were two Christian nuns who were traveling with us. They said that in Gaya city – there was a convent and they could go and get food and water from there. Would our elder sister accompany them? We three had to decide amongst us – and we thought, why not! So – she went off with people whom we had just met – into an unknown city – leaving her two younger sisters behind in the train with unknown people. Such evil things could have happened to us in those few hours. But nothing happened. My sister did come back to us  after some time with water, fresh bread and honey.

That same journey… from Gaya, the train started its journey again halting at every station. One station away from Jamshedpur it was stalled again for a few hours. It was already very late in the night. There was an alternative – that we get off our present train and board another one heading to Jamshedpur. Again, a big decision  – what to do? Father would be waiting for this train in Jamshedpur. How would we let him know that we changed trains? Anyway, we decided to move along with the crowd and change trains. Finally we reached Jamshedpur and father was there waiting – for both trains at the railway station.

After that summer, as we enrolled in university we started journeying on our own. Journeys to new places with different objectives – leaving the comfort and security of our home for new set ups and responsibilities. Apprehensive, uncertain, and sometimes a bit afraid of that which awaited us. And there have been those return journeys to home – traveling with a completely different set of emotions.

There have been those journeys – when unseen hands have groped throughout the night. Sometimes we were able to shout and ward them off, sometimes we used our elbows and hit out – and sometimes we just had to find a way to avoid those hands. There have been times when the toilets have been so dirty that you ate nothing, drank nothing – so that you would not have to visit them. And there have been those innumerable ‘Bollywood moments’ – when some earth shattering event could have happened, changing the  entire course of our lives.

But they did not.

We continued to travel and enjoy our journeys, filing these experiences away in our memories – in the process, unconsciously learning about how to trust and yet be aware of others, about our strengths and weaknesses, risks and challenges and ways of coping with these challenges.

And could there have been another better way to learn?

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Going down memory lane…

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150166908028379&set=a.10150166080828379.298396.631948378&type=1&pid=6840726&id=631948378

‘Don’t tell the Nazis’… I remember this play well…

One day, while going to class from the morning assembly, KKG (Krishnokoli Gupta) pulled me out of the line. I remember looking down at my socks and shoes. They were reasonable clean. Then, what could it be? A few other girls were pulled out as well. We were told to meet with her during recess – when she made us read from some text. And the next thing I knew was – that I had been selected for this school play – ‘Don’t tell the Nazis’.

It was a play about sisters who provided refuge to the pilot of a plane that was shot down and the Nazis came looking for him.

I don’t remember which class were we in… std 8 or 7?

And I don’t remember the occasion for which the play was being staged. But I do remember it was staged at one of the clubs in Jamshedpur. Was it the United Club?

I remember memorizing my lines. I remember, Abhishek Yadav, the injured pilot, making fun of me – during one rehearsal I had tried to help him by pulling at his supposedly injured arm…

I remember our costumes that we got from home – my navy blue suede skirt and white blouse with puffed sleeves. Our teacher wanted us to sew some patches on our skirts to give the impression that we were poor. Ma refused – she said that the fabric would get spoilt. Instead we rubbed powder on to it – in patches – to give it a dirty look.

I remember getting ready for the performance at the club. There was this small make up room and we had some guys as make-up men. I remember in the beginning, every time his hand came near my face, I pursed my lips at him – anticipating that coat of lipstick. But it was always – dab of foundation, powder, kajal… and I think just to keep me waiting… he applied the lipstick right at the end.

Where did my fascination for lipstick go?

The play went well. My family was there. I remember other parents saying nice things at the end.

Yes, I also remember – I forgot a line. There was a moment of confusion, but the other friends, quite experienced in acting, covered it up for me.

I don’t know why KKG selected me as one of the characters, but whatever be the reason – I am thankful to her – for giving me that experience and these memories.

I think – that was the first and the last time, anybody was able to coax out a public performance from me.

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For Every Woman by Nancy. R. Smith

I was reading something when I came across this, and wanted to share…

For Every Woman

For every woman who is tired of acting weak when she knows she is strong,

There is a man who is tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.

For every woman who is tired of acting dumb,

There is a man who is burdened with the constant expectation of ‘knowing everything’.

For every woman who is tired of being called “ an emotional female”,

There is a man who is denied the right to weep and be gentle.

For every woman who feels “tied down” by her children,

There is a man who is denied the full pleasure of shared parenthood.

For every woman who is denied meaningful employment and equal pay,

There is a man who must bear full financial responsibility for another human being.

For every woman who takes a step towards her own liberation,

There is a man who finds that the way to freedom has been made a little easier.